The arts and culture community has paid tribute to internationally renowned struggle stalwart and national poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile, also known as Bra Willie, at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.  The 79-year-old died on January 3, following a short illness.

Musicians, artists, authors and poets from all walks of life came together to celebrate Kgositsile’s life through song, dance and the spoken and written word. It was a celebration of the life of the man affectionately known to all as Bra Willie. Those in attendance described it as a twenty-one song salute, a twenty-one poem salute.

There was even some tap dancing. The perfect send off to the national poet laureate who all agree left his mark on much more than just the national and global literary landscape.

Fellow author and comrade of Kgositsile’s in the struggle, Professor Mongane Wally Serote read a poem that he dedicated to his compatriot.

“We remain here for a while, Bra Willie, we will listen to the breeze where you left your voice and your words and your wisdom, for wisdom we will need as you know. You left as you were changing guidance. You are a good messenger, were you in a hurry to meet Madiba and Albertina as they come back brought by us for you to report to them in time as the freedom fighter you were, you are. After or has been here asked by us last year,” recited Serote.

Jazz was one of Kgositsile’s great passions. Jazz musician and songwriter Jonas Gwanga was helped onto the stage to pay tribute to his childhood friend. Bra Willie’s influence stretched across generations and across borders. His time in exile took him to a number of countries, including the USA, where he stayed for more than a decade.

Stefan Rubelin, the organiser of the memorial held for Kgositsile in New York city last week, paid a fitting tribute to Kgositsile.  “Bra Willie is and will remain a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a hero, a challenger, an inspiration, a brother, a light that does not flicker, and a fellow soldier. We’ve admired his persistent battle against white supremacy and human exploitation large and small. We’ve been transformed by him and his work and by the struggle he carried out, on the page, in the streets and in the corridors of power. We are Bra Willie’s people.”

Many authors, poets, musicians and performers spoke of his passion, his mentorship, his drive and his fearlessness in the face of a system geared against him. In the memorial programme, Chairperson of the Market Theatre Foundation Kwanele Gumbi says Kgositsile has been immortalised through his piercing words and searching intellect.

Gumbi expressed that the power of his example will remain an inspiration and compass to the next generation of leaders. He says they will continue in the footsteps of this giant, recognizing that the battles Bra Willie fought have not all been won yet.

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